Notes from the One-Day Seminar, 'What's Next for Sustainable Schools and Communities'?

Published: Monday 20 February 2012

This seminar was held at the Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University on the 10th February, 2012. It was co-sponsored by CEFPI and the Global Institute. The attendance was open to all CEFPI members in the US and other interested people. As it was scheduled the day after the International Board meeting, most of the Board were present. The numbers, however, were disappointing, with only 57 in attendance. The cost was $275 per person which would have given a total revenue figure of $15,675. After costs of speakers and food, etc. and given that this would have had to be divided into two, the final financial outcome may not have been that impressive - but unknown at this stage.

The day began at 8am and finished with a reception at 5pm in the University Club with food and wine,etc. Lunch was also provided. First up was an opening address by the Director of the Global Institute which was followed by a joint address by two PhD fellows. After morning tea, there were three parallel sessions:

After lunch there were three further sessions:

Following afternoon tea there was a concluding session called, 'Where is my hub'? Students' perspectives on learning spaces' by the architect of a select entry senior downtown science school. We were shown the plans of the relatively new school and asked where we thought the kids would hang out to learn and where they would hang out to 'just be'. We did this in groups. Then she told us the results of the student survey for males and females for each of the four year levels in the school. The interesting findings were the changing opinions of the students as to the places they liked to be for learning and 'non-learning' as they advanced through the school. 

My take on the school, just from a look at the plans and a couple of pictures, was that it was very industrial and cold - lacking soft furnishings, colour and wall decoration in the form of pictures or murals. I didn't think that there was anywhere that the kids would like to hang out if they were not in class. In the words of one salesman of school building design who used to travel to the campfire cosy corners!! I could not help comparing it to the Science school attached to Monash University designed by Taylor Oppenheim which was, to my way of thinking, far, far superior and a great place to be. Details of the Phoenix school are as follows:

Bioscience High School is part of the Phoenix Union High School District, located downtown in the Biotechnology Center and open to students within the District. Bioscience High School's mission is "to prepare tomorrow's scientists, engineers, and medical professionals by providing students of the Phoenix Union High School District with a unique science education through intensive collaboration with the academic and scientific communities in downtown Phoenix." The school serves 300 students in grades 9-12 with a curriculum focused on science and technology. The BioScience learning environment is centered on multiple perspectives, scholarly endeavors, authentic experiences and personalization. The School's facility, which opened in 2007, is designed with an open classroom layout and flexible circulation that helps facilitate collaborative learning and teamwork.

The two sessions I attended seemed to be more generic than the rest. Marcus Orlovsky's session made the point that sustainability must been seen as a value by the school and as such should be woven into the curriculum at all year levels. But this is hard because teachers will say that this is additional work and is strictly not tested. And, in relation to school buildings, where does the interest in sustainability start? Most often is starts with an appreciation of the features of a completed building. But Orlovsky says, student interest and involvement in sustainability should start way before that, it should begin when the idea is conceived for a new facility and include when the brief is being set for the architects and other consultants. Then the students should be present at the interviews for these people and have input in their processes throughout the design and construction phase of the project. Well, does time allow for all this and do the architect's fees allow for the additional time for explanation and student consultation, etc. Great ideas in theory but how do they hold up in practice? Some schools may manage this given the right personnel on the staff, but the majority would claim that it is too difficult due to time and curricula constraints to implement this concept.

This theme was also taken on by Barr and Schiller in the afternoon when they looked at the building as a teaching tool. They produced the following diagram which encompassed the layers of appreciation of a building particularly from the sustainability issues point of view. Again we were asked to contribute in groups as to the WHO should be involved in the consultation process, the HOW of this. I felt that his was pretty basic stuff and not too brain stretching. Nevertheless, their session was worthwhile as both people had surveyed a number of schools which had been designed on sustainability principles and they were able to illustrate these with pictures, etc. However, there was nothing new in the armoury of sustainability measures that were new to those who had been practising this for a number of years. They did make the point though, that it is very difficult for a school to get to LEED Gold standard of sustainability design and even to find an architect who is capable of achieving it, budget allowing!!

Dr Andrew Bunting
CEFPI Australasia's International Representative